Four years ago, Gilbert Classical Academy opened its doors.
The school brought the Socratic method of teaching - which encourages students to ask questions and develop critical thinking skills - to the Gilbert Unified School District. The curriculum is advanced and rigorous, but any student can enroll. Hundreds of families expressed interest, with space only available for about 60 students in each grade level - seven through nine at that time.
In two weeks, those ninth-graders who stuck with it will don caps and gowns, becoming the first graduating class from the school.
The 29 seniors completed a tough program full of honors and Advanced Placement classes. And, they say, it's paid off. They'll all attend college in the fall, in schools from Arizona and Texas to Utah, Ohio and Indiana.
"The whole curriculum beat you into shape, work-ethic wise," said Hayden West, 18, who will attend the University of Arizona in the fall. "Some seniors (at other schools) slack off, but in college, you can't do that. Here, they won't let you."
"We had to know the material and know how to apply it ... It would help you to not just take the test, but learn," said Malynne Cottam, who will attend the University of Utah. "I don't think I'm a genius. I just have to be willing to work ... Now we're all set to go to these great schools."
With such a small graduating class, the students can almost finish each other's sentences. They've been through just about every class together for four years. They know each other's names, quirks and interests.
"I know it's given me a higher standard friend-wise, being so small (a class) and seeing them every day for four years," said Phelan Mahony. Mahony will attend the University of Arizona.
"I've made friends with all these people (outside school)," said Laura Youngblood, 17, who will attend St. Edward's University in Texas. "But I'm nowhere near as close to them."
They've crafted new traditions - and expectations - for the senior classes that will follow.
"Some of what they've passed on, the juniors are nervous to live up to it," said Maureen Barnabas, who teaches Advanced Placement English. "They have maintained this great dignity about themselves that's definitely demonstrated to the other students ... It's a very special group. We will miss them. We don't talk much about that last day. We'll start getting mushy."
Gilbert Classical Academy is one of two academies in the Gilbert Unified School District. Today, it has students in grades seven through 12.
The other academy is Neely Traditional Academy, a back-to-basics school for students in kindergarten through sixth grade.